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MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin was not waiting at the end of the red carpet to greet Chinese leader Xi Jinping upon his arrival in Russia on Monday (Mar 20) for a high-profile visit.

But it wasn’t a snub.

Russia’s standard protocol for visiting dignitaries calls for them to be welcomed at the airport by a lower-ranking Cabinet official.

Many observers argue that the fighting in Ukraine has made Russia increasingly dependent on China for support as the country becomes isolated from the West.

But Putin did not deviate from the script, and the start of Xi’s trip was like that of any visiting leader.

Putin sent Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko to the Russian capital’s Vnukovo airport to meet Xi after he stepped off his Boeing 747.

The Russian president, meanwhile, was far away in central Moscow attending to business as usual before his high-stakes dinner with Xi in the evening.

Putin began his day by making an appearance at a meeting of the Interior Ministry’s top officials. He also addressed a parliamentary conference involving lawmakers from African nations.

Back at the airport, Xi listened as a Russian military band played the national anthems of China and Russia. He then walked past a line of honorary guards accompanied by Chernyshenko.

While Putin did not break protocol and pamper Xi with a surprise appearance at the airport, the Russian leader showered his Chinese guest with praise in an article published in China’s top People’s Daily newspaper.

Putin described Xi’s visit as a “landmark event”, saying it offers a “great opportunity for me to meet with my good old friend with whom we enjoy the warmest relationship”. He also wrote in detail about their first meeting in 2010, adding that he and Xi met about 40 times and citing a line from Chinese philosopher Confucius that said: ”Is it not a joy to have friends coming from afar!“

Xi’s visit offers an important political boost to Putin just days after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for the Russian leader on charges of alleged involvement in abductions of thousands of children from Ukraine.

Moscow, which doesn’t recognize the court’s jurisdiction, dismissed the move as “legally null and void”, but it further ramped up the pressure on the Russian leader.

After Monday’s private dinner, Putin and Xi will hold official talks on Tuesday that will also be attended by top officials from both countries. They are expected to issue conclusive statements after the negotiations.